Renaissance's Single Night of Six Shorts

Last Nights Directors Showcase Was a Reasonably Fun Mix

Feb. 2, 2010
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Running for one night only, Renaissance Theaterworks’ Love’s Fire was a fun program of shorts written by prominent contemporary playwrights. The show was something of a showcase for local directors that featured an interesting mix of different actors. There were two performances. I attended the second one. It was packed. The venue in question was the Off-Broadway  Theatre’s studio theatre—a space still set-up for performances of Renaissance’s other show—Blackbird. Action played out on a Monday night in a set made to resemble a grungy factory break room. The six shorts in the program were spilt up into blocks of 3 separated by an intermission.



by Eric Bogosian

The first short was a piece inspired by Shakespeare’s  Sonnet 118. One of the more entertaining pieces of the evening, the cast featured Jordan Gwiazdowski as a man trying to calm the nerves of his drunken fiancée (Laura McDonald) on the eve of their wedding. She explains to him that, as he is too perfect for her, she was uncomfortable, so she ended up starting up a meaningless ongoing affair with a thick-necked biker.

Bogosian is a real talent in his one-man shows, but I never ran across a full-cast script of his that I’d liked until this one. It’s a very well-balanced, very quick-moving short. Directed by Greendale Community Theatre co-founder and Comedysportz guy Brian Bzdawka, the production swam quite well through the script. The performance of Gwiazdowski leaned a bit too heavily in the direction of wacky awkwardness. Some of the subtlety of the script’s comedy was lost, but on the whole this was a very, very fun short.  



by William Finn

Inspired by Sonnet 102, the second short of the evening was a light piece of romance directed by Milwaukee Comedy Fest founder Matt Kemple. Vince Figueroa of the improv group Meanwhile played a painter trying to capture the beauty of his wife, played by Emily Vitrano.

The shortest piece of the evening also would’ve been the most forgettable had it not been staged as well as it had been. Trusting the light, straightforward nature of the script to speak for itself, Kemple merely set-up Figueroa and Vitrano and let them work. There rally isn’t much insight in the short—and it ends-up feeling kind of hackneyed. Who hasn’t written poetry about how difficult it is to capture the beauty of a woman? Trusting the visuals to speak their own language, let the beauty of the piece take the spotlight, making the overall lack of insight in Finn’s script relatively inconsequential.



by Tony Kushner

Emmit Morgans and Jazmin Vollmar play client and therapist, respectively in a surprisingly tepid script by one of the most consistently brilliant playwrights of the past 20 years. The client is gay. He wants not only to be straight, but to also have sex with his therapist, who happens to be a lesbian. As much a Kushner reaches for some kind of insight into the nature of human sexuality and intimacy, he falls extremely short. The cast, which also features Gwen Zupan and James Boland as the semi-present lovers of client and therapist, manages a solidly entertaining performance, which is impressive given the script’s limitations. Due to the nature of the script and some of what takes place here, this might’ve been one of the trickier shorts to stage. Director Juanita Cordova (who founded Pink Banana Theatre) did an excellent job with a less than impressive script. 



by Marsha Norman

The program returned from intermission with a forgettable script that was staged in a solidly memorable staging by Renaissance Theaterworks’ Casey Harding.

Ashlea Woodley played a woman dealing with the knowledge of her husband’s (Rob Maass) extra martial affair with a woman (Gwen Zupan) who is also seeing a man (Kevin Wleklinski) who is seeing another man (Christian Shanower) who is seeing another woman (Jacqueline Knapp.) It’s like watching a tragic game of emotional billiards. Marsha Norman’s script is not particularly interesting, but Harding does a good job of executing it. The energy flows across the stage beautifully. And the minimalist postuming here was really impressive. Everyone was wearing black until they took turns getting passionate with each other, each in turn revealing the bright red clothing that was lurking underneath the black. It was a very beautiful, very graphic presentation. Kind of dazzling and exciting in spite of the script. 


by Wendy Wasserstein

A really impressive cast worked with Milwaukee theatre veteran James Fletcher on this one. Based on Sonnet 108, the short was set at a party of extremely wealthy coasties as they waited for arrival of the titular guest of honor, who of course never shows-up. Pretty tedious, actually. The script was entirely too smug to be very enjoyable. There was dry humor mixed with just a dash of pretentious drama. Fletcher does a pretty  good job with the direction here, but there’s very little that could mae something like this come across as anything other than . . . perfunctory. Michael DiPadova does a brilliant job here and is given some of the best lines—most notably a reference to a sexual position only achievable by “lesbian hydras.” That line was good enough to make the rest of the short pretty bearable. The short also featured Betsy Skowbo, Georgina McKee, John Maclay, Allison Katula, Dan Katula and Callie Ebert.



by John Guare

Staggeringly talented comic actor Kevin Rich does a really good job of making the most tedious script of the program exceedingly tolerable. A group of 8 students tackle the project of trying to stage some sort of interpretation of Sonnets 153 and 154. The staged interpretation is kind of an obvious speed through of the Christian Bible as it relates to the Sonnets. Not much new here, but Rich has done a brilliant job of staging the whole thing. Rich has done a really good job with a rather large cast. All nine are pretty much onstage for the entire short, which gives the audience a lot to look at. The script doesn’t give them much to do but play-out the drama of the script as a group of undergraduate students, but the flow of energy across the stage is actually kind of relaxing. It was a pleasantly soporific little end to a quietly entertaining evening.


Renaissance Theaterworks  Love’s Fire may be over, but its production of Blackbird continues through February 7th.




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